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The crime of the 21st century

Financial fraud targeting seniors have become so prevalent that they are now considered “the crime of the 21st century.” Why? Because seniors are thought to have a significant amount of money sitting in their accounts.

Financial fraud also often go unreported or can be difficult to prosecute; they are considered a “low-risk” crime. However, they are devastating to many older adults and can leave them in a very vulnerable position with little time to recoup their losses. Not just wealthy seniors are targeted. Low-income older adults are also at risk of financial abuse. It is not always strangers who perpetrate these crimes; more than 90% of all reported elder abuse is committed by family members, most often their adult children, followed by grandchildren, nieces and nephews and others.

Be aware of potential scams. Review the list below so you can identify a potential scam:

Medicare/health insurance scams

Every U.S. citizen older than 65 qualifies for Medicare. In these types of scams, perpetrators may pose as a Medicare representative to get older people to give them their personal information, or they will provide bogus services for elderly people at makeshift mobile clinics, then use the personal information they provide to bill Medicare and pocket the money.

Charity scams

Money is solicited for fake charities. This often occurs after natural disasters.

Internet fraud

While using the Internet is a great skill at any age, the slower speed of adoption among some older people makes them easier targets for automated Internet scams that are ever-present on the web and email programs. Pop-up browser windows simulating virus-scanning software will fool victims into either downloading a fake anti-virus program (at a substantial cost) or an actual virus that will open up whatever information is on the user’s computer to scammers.

Their unfamiliarity with the less-visible aspects of browsing the web — firewalls and built-in virus protection, for example — make seniors especially susceptible to such traps. A senior may receive an email messages that appear to be from a legitimate company or institution, asking them to “update” or “verify” their personal information. A senior receives emails that appear to be from the IRS about a tax refund.

The grandparent scam

The grandparent scams are so simple and so devious because it uses one of older adults’ most reliable assets, their hearts. Scammers will place a call to an older person; they will say something along the lines of: “Hi, Grandma, do you know who this is?” When the unsuspecting grandparent guesses the name of the grandchild the scammer most sounds like, the scammer has established a fake identity without having done a lick of background research. Once “in,” the fake grandchild will usually ask for money to solve some unexpected financial problem — overdue rent, payment for car repairs, etc. — to be paid via Western Union or MoneyGram, which do not always require identification to collect. At the same time, the scam artist will beg the grandparent, “please don’t tell my parents, they would kill me.”

If you suspect you have been the victim of a scam, do not be afraid or embarrassed to talk about it with someone you trust. You are not alone, and there are people who can help. Doing nothing could only make it worse. Keep handy the phone numbers and resources you can turn to, including the local police, your bank if money has been taken from your accounts, and Adult Protective Services.

The ADRC staff is available to give you more information about the signs of elder abuse or to report elder abuse. Call the agency at 715-528-4890, or stop by the office. The ADRC is located in the lower level of the Florence County Courthouse, 501 Lake Ave. Or go on the web to www.florencecountywi.com and click on Aging and Disability Resource Center.

Source: Bureau of Consumer Protection, Wisconsin Senior Medicare Patrol.

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